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Egypt protesters storm Israel Embassy in Cairo, raising tensions

Hundreds of demonstrators march toward the embassy, batter its security wall and pull down barricades recently set up to protect the high-rise. Police do not intervene until hours later.

September 09, 2011|By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times
  • Egyptian demonstrators demolish a concrete wall around the building housing the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.
Egyptian demonstrators demolish a concrete wall around the building housing… (Khalil Hamra, Associated…)

Reporting from Cairo — Protesters broke through a security wall and stormed the Israeli Embassy in Cairo late Friday, throwing documents out windows and sharpening the tensions that have been growing between the two countries since the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Hundreds of demonstrators marched toward the embassy, battered the wall and pulled down barricades recently set up to protect the high-rise. Police did not intervene until shortly before midnight, hours after young men set fire to the embassy's Israeli flag along the Nile.

Egyptian news reports said that more than 400 people were injured in clashes between security forces and protesters. Two cars were burned and a nearby police headquarters was set ablaze as riot police using batons and tear gas struggled to gain control of the protesters, some of whom brandished hammers and metal bars.

Dozens of protesters appeared to have entered the embassy's lower floor, but it was not clear whether diplomats or staff members were in the building. The Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm reported that Ambassador Yitzhak Levanon went to Cairo International Airport to board a military plane back to Israel.

Reuters reported that Israel Radio interrupted its programming with bulletins about the Cairo violence.

President Obama called on Egypt to fulfill its obligation to protect the embassy and called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss how the situation could be resolved without further violence. Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf summoned his Cabinet for an emergency meeting.

The protesters broke away from a larger demonstration in Tahrir Square against Egypt's ruling military council and the slow pace of political and economic reform. Tens of thousands of demonstrators demanded an end to military tribunals for civilians, a quick transfer of power to a civilian government and changes to election laws before the vote for a new parliament in November.

The protest in Tahrir Square took a more ominous tone than in past weeks. A group of soccer fans, known as ultras, who days earlier battled police at a stadium, led young men on an attack against the Interior Ministry. At least one firebomb was thrown at the building and demonstrators sprayed "Down with the Field Marshal," referring to Gen. Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, leader of the ruling council.

The military should have "taken a number of revolutionary steps to reorganize Egypt, but they didn't," said one protester, Sayed Naguib, owner of a shop that sells phone accessories.

Those frustrations coincided with the rising resentment against Israel. Relations between the two nations, whose leaders signed a peace treaty in 1979, have been strained since Mubarak was toppled in February. Egypt's new military-run interim government has been more publicly critical of Israel's regional policies at a time Israel is facing pressure from the democracy movements and revolutions sweeping the Arab world.

The acrimony intensified last month when Israeli forces accidentally killed five Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai peninsula after a terrorist attack that killed eight people across the border in southern Israel.

The Israeli government apologized, but Egyptians regarded the incident as a severe breach of Egypt's sovereignty. Anger has grown and there have been almost daily protests outside the embassy for nearly two weeks.

jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

Amro Hassan of The Times' Cairo bureau contributed to this report

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